I looked out across the expanse of the Moroccan desert and watched the small, luxury plane approach. Nerves rattled inside my stomach and agitated my already frayed resolve. I had to stay strong. I had to make her understand my way was better; my way was the only way people would not die.
She would never be able to live with herself if others died because of decisions she made. And her future was the most important thing in the world to me.
The only thing I could think of. The only thing I could bring myself to care about.
“Talbott will be glad to see you,” I turned down to Lilly, watching her porcelain skin heat into blushing embarrassment.
“I will just be glad to go home,” she mumbled, still not willing to look me in the eye.
My heart broke for her, she was so tiny, so broken, yet she hid her weakness in order to stand strong against the cause she risked her life for…. to stand strong against me. My stomach rolled over again at the realization of how much I was hurting her…. not Lilly, although I loathed what my father was doing to our innocent people…. but how I was hurting her.
“I will make this better, Lilly. I won’t let this continue for much longer,” I promised the fragile girl standing next to me.
“If she lets you,” was her only reply and I almost laughed out loud. How right she was.
“Hopefully, she’ll see reason tonight,” I quipped, stepping back further into the folds of the tent as the door to the plane opened and Talbott lowered the staircase. I looked around at the intimate setting I created just for her, knowing she loved exotic things, knowing this would appeal to her senses and hoping that in some way she would be able to see through all that had happened between us and find me again.
“She won’t,” Lilly replied and at first I thought she could read my mind before I realized she meant that Eden would not see reason…. not tonight, not any night.
She was so stubborn, so infuriatingly and beautifully stubborn.
I held out my arm to Lilly and she took it, grasping it tightly as if she were the one in need of support. I wondered for a second if it had anything to do with seeing Talbott, but mostly I was just thankful she still trusted me enough to lean on me. I hadn’t turned everyone into an enemy.
“Um, are you sure this is the right tent?” I heard her ask Talbott, the awe evident in her tone, but even from inside the tent I could feel how her magic tensed and flexed in preparation of what she was about to meet.
“Yes, Eden, you are exactly where you should be,” I answered, stepping out of the tent and making myself known. Her expression blanched at my approach, the heat of her black eyes burning holes through my very soul, her magic flaring with indignation. She was stunning, a fiery goddess of wrath.
Talbott and Lilly stood close by us, but all I saw, all I could focus on was her perfect lips turned into a pout, begging me to kiss them until all of her fury turned into the passion I craved from her.
“What is this?” she demanded, stopping her foot. I had the strongest urge to pick her up into my arms, carry her into the tent, throw her on the bed and work out every last one of those frustrations she held so tightly. I held back my smile when she turned on Talbott, her scarf slipping further down her neck, revealing her perfect throat, the long lines of her collarbone. After Talbott stayed silent, she turned back to me, her loose black curls swinging with her movements, cascading down her back. “I warned your father that if you came, I would kill you,” she growled, doing her best to sound intimidating. “So now you can blame him for your untimely death.”
I bit back my laughter; she was just so adorable when she was this angry. Her eyes flashed with impatience and her jaw clenched with frustration. She was the sexiest thing I had ever seen and before I could make a conscious thought form in my head, my magic had left me, searching hers out, wrapping itself around her body.
“I have no one to blame but myself,” I explained, holding out a hand to her as if she were as wrapped up in me as I was in her. “Talbott never spoke with my father; I made all of the arrangements for tonight’s exchange. Actually, he knows nothing about Talbott, or Lilly, or any of this.” I smiled at her confusion, covering my anxiety with faux arrogance, knowing it would drive her wild. Her resolve stood though and I watched her angry features turn to stone. I hated myself for what I was going to have to say, for giving her no choice but to talk to me. Lilly was right, she would never see reason when it came to me and unless I forced her hand this would become a wasted opportunity. “Eden, please join me; otherwise, I will have to take your friend back to Romania with me.”
Lilly didn’t even tense next to me. It was a little disconcerting that she had already called my bluff. Thankfully, Eden wasn’t paying attention to anything other than me and her own anger.
“No, I don’t want to,” she spat, crossing her arms in a way that made my heart tighten.
“Don’t be a child, I only want to talk for a few minutes and then you can decide what to do,” I reasoned, appealing to her argumentative side.
She looked at her dear friend, her eyes filling with unshed sympathy and I knew I won. She believed me to be the monster I had made myself into, the cruel, unfeeling tyrant that would take her dearest friend back to Romania with me and toss her into prison. I swallowed hard against the lump that demanded I fall to my knees and beg for her forgiveness, that I offer her everything she wanted and let her leave without making her spend time with me.
I shook my head, making myself remember that wouldn’t accomplish anything. If I let her have her way, my father would win. She had to see things from my perspective; she had to use different tactics if she wanted to win.
Or maybe I was just rationalizing my actions so that I could still have her.
“Fine, a few minutes, and then we’re leaving,” she relented, her stubborn rebellion sparking alive again.
Talbott leaned in to remind her of something, but my mind had started reeling with the idea of being alone with her…. of having her close to me again. Lilly looked at me for permission to leave and I nodded, releasing her to freedom, or at least Talbott’s temporary care. Eden embraced her closest friend, their mutual relief and love for each other softening the air around them.
Suddenly, I couldn’t bear the distance between us anymore. I couldn’t watch her in someone else’s arms, even if it was her best friend. I needed her…. hungered for her to be with me. I cleared my throat impatiently, hating how I would come off to her. If only she understood my bottomless desire for her, the desperately painful aching in my chest that demanded I pull her into me.
I held out my hand to her, hoping she wouldn’t notice the slight tremble in it at the prospect of touching her. She glanced down with disdain, marching past me in a hurry to get this over with. I smiled, despite her resistance to me and followed her inside the tent.
I watched in silent reverence as she took in the meeting place I created just for her. Her gaze deepened with interest and reluctant excitement. She moved about the tent, discovering each room, sometimes frowning, sometimes unknowingly smiling. When she got to the bedroom I couldn’t help but walk over with her.
I knew there were things we needed to discuss, there were more important things than my addictive desire to this elusive rebel, but when I created the tent it was with one purpose…. one hope. I couldn’t even fool myself into believing I had noble intentions.
“Just in case you were tired,” I explained, not able to keep the innuendo out of my voice.
She turned around to lash out at me, but I was closer than she anticipated. She bounced off my chest, our magics popping and fizzing like electricity around us.
I smirked. I couldn’t help it. There might be hope in this after all.
“Ok, let’s focus, and just get this over with before I decide to kill you anyway,” she
grumbled, her voice shaky and uncertain despite the confidence she was desperately trying to overplay. Her hand moved up to play with her hair, and I imagined her ripping it down from the top of her head, shaking it out seductively and then….
“The exchange isn’t over yet, Eden,” I bluffed, somehow keeping my voice even despite the flare of passion heating my blood. “My Guard has your friend alone on a plane that he is perfectly capable of commandeering. Which one of them do you think could win, if Talbott decided to take off with her right now? Or do you think she would even protest?” I asked, making up excuses as I went along. There was no way in hell Talbott would let me take Lilly back to Romania. He wanted her safe. I admired his willingness to be separated from her for her safety. Maybe Eden was safer away from me, but I was not so willing to let us remain apart.
“He wouldn’t dare!” she yelped, understanding my made-up but convenient plan much too late. I gestured to the couch to keep from dragging her to the bedroom and listened to her grumble with a barely concealed smile. “Ugh, it’s official; I am the worst leader ever!” She crossed her arms again and refused my offer to sit.
“Yes, you are,” I took the opportunity to remind her, hoping it would reinforce my
argument. “You should give it up; surely there is a different way to save your people….” I suggested, hoping she would come to the right conclusions, the only conclusion that would get our people out of danger and the one that happened to serve my best interest as well, as selfish as that was.
She finally sat down next to me, taking in the tent with her expressive eyes. And then it hit me, the flood of deeper feelings that overrode my passion…. The love I held for her in the deepest part of my being, the need that consumed me when she was this close. Hell, when she was not close at all. She consumed my thoughts…. my actions…. my will. And there was so much more than desire between us, there was a perfect love that she turned herself blind to.
“Trade places with me,” she commanded, and I watched her eyes float over the bedroom again.
Well, if she wanted to deny the love she felt for me, at least passion seemed to be obviously present between us. And I could work with passion.
“Is everything alright?” I asked as she walked around me so that she could face the other side of the tent.
“Yes, everything’s fine. What is this about, Kiran?” she asked evenly. I felt her magic hum strongly around me and decided to let her simmer, knowing her feelings would come full surface eventually…. she just needed to be reminded of what was between us.
“I think you should reconsider my offer. I’m not trying to tell you what to do by any means, but you said so yourself: you are a terrible leader. If you traded places with your brother, he could go back to leading the Rebellion and you could rest in the knowledge that you saved him.” I appealed to her reason first, watching her press her lips together in thought. Her eyes flickered with an internal debate, and I had hope that she would give in to me, that she would make this fight all the easier.
That she would come back to me.
“Ok, let’s talk this out. If I were to say yes, if I were to go with you tonight, how would I know that Avalon would be let go, that you wouldn’t just kill him immediately?” She asked reasonably and hope flickered into a flame that burned inside my chest.
“You have my word,” I answered immediately and then thought better to just offer something she distrusted so immensely. “I brought you Lilly tonight and I saved your brother’s life in India. I have good intentions, you can trust me.” I argued feebly, because I knew she would neither believe I had good intentions nor believe she could trust me.
“No, I can’t.” she answered exactly how I thought she would. “Besides, you had to save Avalon’s life in India; he is your only leverage. And, I still haven’t left with Lilly, so we’ll see how this plays out.” She paused, trying to grasp control of her magic that had begun to behave erratically. “Anyway, let’s move past whether or not I can actually believe you would let Avalon go, what happens after that? Like to me? Are you going to sacrifice me? Take my magic? What happens next?”
I bit back a reply that suggested I show her what happens next and went with my next response, the deep feelings I still felt for her that she refused to trust. “No, I’m not going to kill you! If you gave yourself over to me willingly, there would be a wedding of course, but in the future. It would be necessary to marry me; that would be a concrete part of the deal, my father would demand it. However, if it seemed to be your idea, then you would have some control over when that date was. It obviously couldn’t be decades in the future, but you could buy yourself at least a year, I’m sure.”
She rolled her eyes and I could tell I was about to be victim to her sarcasm before she even opened her beautiful mouth, “Ok, let me see if I completely understand this. I turn myself in; you may or may not let my brother go free. Then we get married in, at the very most a year and let me guess, in a few more months, probably nine to be exact, I produce a healthy, little heir to the throne and everyone lives happily ever after?”
“Eden, I am trying to offer you an alternative to your brother’s ultimate death and the imprisonment of your friends!” I begged her to see reason, begged her to see beyond her hatred for me.
“Marrying you is not an alternative! It’s just a different form of the death penalty!” she bit back at me and I swallowed the self-loathing that rose like bile in my throat. I had done this to myself…. dug my own grave and yet I could never give up on the idea that she wasn’t still mine.
She belonged with me. I certainly belonged to her.
“I didn’t say that it wasn’t,” I lost patience, more with myself than with her, “but saving your brother is what you want. That’s all I’m saying. India was a dismal failure for you. You will not break into the Romanian Citadel and even if you do, your magic is useless in those prisons. I am asking you to consider a different alternative
for your brother.”
For us…. but I couldn’t say that out loud.
“You promised to keep him safe,” she accused me. I couldn’t help the way my chest fluttered at the idea there was still some trust between us, that she still counted on me to protect her or her family in some small way.
And so I was completely honest with her, “And I am doing my best, but my father is a desperate man and he will not be satisfied forever.” I watched her struggle against me for a moment, against us and what was unspoken but heavy between us before giving up all pretense of confidence and resorting to begging, “Please…. please go with me. Choose the easy way, save your brother.”
She struggled internally some more and as I watched her, waited for her response my desire grew tenfold. She was exquisite, enamoring and I had stupidly lost her. Thoughts of her lips pressed against mine, her body wrapped in my arms consumed me and I nearly lost my composure. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen or held and I had lost her.
I would always hate myself for that.
“No,” she finally replied firmly, “there is no way in hell I will go with you, are you kidding me?”
“That is the wrong decision, Eden. Please do not make me take you by force,” I stood up, more frustrated with all the poor decisions of my past than with her.
“Don’t push me, Kiran,” she threatened, standing up to face me.
And then the tension was too thick between us, she could barely hold on to her magic and it slipped from her control in a wave of aggression against me. I stumbled but caught myself, thankful for the opportunity to release some of my own pent up frustration. I sent my magic against the tent folds, blocking her path and her escape.
Angered, she fired back and kept firing. I did my best to just block her attempts but the table she crashed against my side hurt a little bit. I met her magical blows, locking them together in the air or deflecting them as best as I could but she was relentless. She was so angry and hurt and I was finally a target her magic could wound, maybe even kill.
“Do you really think that by forcing me to go with you, against my will that I will somehow madly fall back in love with you?” she shouted at me, as I dodged another one of her magical waves, sending a playful one of my own to trip up her feet.
“Of course not!” I hollered back, but the words burned in my throat and I felt like choking on them. The acid of their meaning left my hollow chest in shreds of scar tissue. “This isn’t about winning you back, Love.” I lied…. I forced myself to lie and then to believe my words. “This is the nature of the war you declared.”
Suddenly I was so full of burning wrath, my arms and legs shaking from the full realization I would never get her back, that I had lost her forever. I picked her up with the force of my uncontained magic and threw her to the bed, knowing it would be a soft landing and not willing to continue in this charade.
I walked over to her, towering above her as she struggled to comprehend her loss from the soft, luxury of the bed. Her battle-loosened hair fanned out around her perfect face, and her body heaved the effort to breath after exerting herself against me. Her face flinched in pain, and I knew there was something wrong with her magic, something she wasn’t telling me. My hand reached out to hers, but I stopped myself certain she would abhor my touch.
But then my eyes found hers. I knew I was crazy with love, consumed with a passion that refused to quiet inside of me, and when my hungry gaze finally settled on her I found the same expression staring back at me. If I wasn’t frozen from shock, I probably would have thrown myself on top of her; but I knew how precarious her feelings were, how quickly she could change her mind and I didn’t want to destroy what hope I had left by moving to soon.
I had to let her be the one to move first.
The tension between us was heavy and palpable…. pulsing strong between us, pulling us toward each other, reminding our hearts that they belonged to no one else.
And then her hand was tangled in my collar and I thought my heart would beat right out of my chest. She pulled me to her, down to the bed, down on top of her and my body found home again. There was not a moment of hesitation as our mouths found each other, my arms wrapping instinctively around her tiny waist, pulling her to me, closing every space that separated us.
Her legs wrapped around me as my I pressed my body into hers. She let out a soft moan, and I knew in that moment, if she let me, I would never stop kissing her again.
Needing to be closer to her, I bravely slipped my hands under her shirt. Her blood boiled inside of her and I could feel the heat of her magic on her hot skin. I ran my hands over her bare stomach and back, lifting her shirt up so that I could feel as much of her as she would let me.
She pushed into me, desperate for more of my touch and I devoured her with my mouth. She consumed me, my thoughts, my actions…. my heart. She had all of me, and she always would. Somewhere through it all a rational voice reminded me that she would leave me…. that this was not her answer to my solution, but it didn’t matter. Finally weeks and weeks of desire, of need…. of an unfed addiction were being nurtured and I would drink her in until she forced me to stop.
The magic around us became a lightning field of colored magic as the tent buzzed with our joined forces. She might not ever realize how powerful we would be together, how strong and unstoppable we would be when we were finally…. together.
With shaking hands she reached up for my face and held it. She let me kiss her as though I was claiming her soul and in those moments I was. She would never again be kissed like I was kissing her, never be loved with as much love as I poured into her. And I wanted her to remember that, I wanted all of me burned into her soul until I consumed her every thought the way she did mine.
Her hands tensed in the slightest of ways and I knew this was the end, I knew that she would leave me again. But I had tasted her one last time and if she killed me in this moment I would die with love for her infecting every one of my cells, every molecule inside of me.
She released her magic against me. Her way of goodbye I guessed…. but just before blackness found me I committed her to my memory so that if I were to wake up in heaven, it would be with the delicious taste of her still on my lips and the feel of her pressed against my body still burning my skin.
And if only the solitude of the desert remained for me and this was not death than I would fight for her with every breath I had left until I breathed my last.
She would be mine again.
Kiran's POV of the Moroccan Desert
Who is Rachel?!?
Rachel Higginson is the author of The Five Stages of Falling in Love, Every Wrong Reason, The Star-Crossed Series, Love & Decay Novella Series and much more! She was born and raised in Nebraska, and spent her college years traveling the world. She fell in love with Eastern Europe, Paris, Indian Food and the beautiful beaches of Sri Lanka, but came back home to marry her high school sweetheart. Now she spends her days writing stories and raising four amazing kids.
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